Sagada, on the Philippine’s main island, North Luzon, is known for its hanging coffins and burial caves.
As well as our guide, we also needed a local accredited guide who was familiar with the terrain. This is rigorously enforced as is a guest to guide ratio. However, I suspect it’s a ploy to provide an income for locals, because Frank – our guide, was very scruffy and not particularly informative: as they’re allocated from a rota, I suspect the quality varies.
Our first stop was a view point to see the coffins embedded in the caves although to be honest it was quite hard to see them.
LUMIANG BURIAL CAVE – we headed out to the Lumiang Burial Cave where the trek down had some smooth paths, but also steep, rocky sections: our trekking poles were invaluable but at least it was dry.. As it was a Saturday, it was extremely busy with lots of groups of energetic youngsters from the Philippine ‘lowlands’ and we often waited for them to pass excitedly by. At the bottom was a huge lichen-furred sacred cave with 100s of small, stacked coffins at the mouth. Frank told us there’d been an earthquake in 2013 and some of the coffins had fallen, scattering the bones. In the rainy season, the nearby river floods the cave and one tourist had fallen in and the body had never been found. People can still be buried in the cave, but the family have to pay for the slaughter of 20+ pigs and 100s of chickens to appease the gods. More adventurous tourists were heading into the cave which connects with others, but we were told it was a long and difficult underground trek.
ECHO VALLEY HANGING COFFINS – having walked through a large, interesting Catholic cemetery, we once again were on the descent. However, my legs and knees were beginning to ache considerably not just from this trek, but from visiting the Ifugao Rice Terraces. We stopped at the view point which was very busy and having been told the trek to the bottom would take another hour, decided to get out my binoculars and telephoto lens.
CHURCH – the cathedral-like Episcopal Church of Saint Mary the Virgin had been built in the 1920s and replaced a locally-sourced wood and shingle structure erected in 1910.
SAGADA POTTERY – we drove up a steep hill to Sagada Pottery, where we just in time to see a short demonstration by a young girl throwing a pot. We had a quick look in the shop of pottery, where they also sold blueberry yoghurt and cakes. We suspect they sell more of the latter than the former as the pots were expensive.
GANDUYAN MUSEUM – although called a museum, it’s actually a traditional Ifugao house still owned by a tribal family. Having taken off our shoes, we climbed the stairs to the one-room museum where the owner, Lester, described to the throng what was in each of the glass cases and highlighted the many exhibits hung on the walls and the items of clothing, back packs made from bark, porcelain, weavings etc. Youngsters, sat on the floor, whilst we Silver Travellers perched on stools. It was an interesting and much better than doing it by yourself as he was also a good raconteur. He told us tales about the head hunting ritual and how the Sagada people still eat dog to keep them warm – apparently, they have processions, and if a dog barks at it, it is speared and eaten. As said, he told a good tale, so you were left not knowing the truth! After 45 minutes, including any questions, we were given time to look round.
SAGADA WEAVING – was a little disappointing. We’d been expecting to find an extensive home-industry, but the sewing machines were not working and whilst there was a small shop with uninspiring woven back packs etc, we weren’t tempted. We were just about to leave, when a man pointed us to a shed further down a path, where we found three girls at looms and a sign saying we were welcome to watch but that photographs were not allowed. Although it looked a complicated process, once I’d watched carefully for a while I could understand how the pattern was produced.
The day was a full one, with lots of crowds at all the sites and on the back of our trekking in the rice terraces, it would have been better for us to have swapped the trip to Sunday. We ventured out then on our own and the place was deserted, although open.